Friday, August 12, 2016

Hike to Louie Lake near McCall, Idaho

Louie Lake
Louie Lake is a pretty alpine lake hidden in the mountains of central Idaho. It's a nice reward at the end of a modest hike that starts near the town of McCall. You might want to bring a lunch to eat on the shore of the lake, or if you dare, plunge into the lake's chilly waters.

The hike to Louie Lake is around four and half miles round-trip -- not terribly long, but be aware that the route in is a steady uphill climb, some of it steep. You gain about 1,500 feet in elevation in all.

Some online guides say this trail can be a hard to follow. That's not really true, as long as you stick to a simple rule: Just keeping going up. 

Driving in, the last five miles or so are on a winding dirt road. At the parking area, you'll find the Louie Lake trailhead toward the right end (as you arrive). There is a sign for the trail, so don't assume you've found the trail if you don't see it marked. If you immediately cross a creek on a log "bridge," you're on the right trail.


Key point: When you hit a fire road (logging road?), follow it uphill. Do NOT cross the road and follow the trail down on the other side. Stick to the road.

Soon after that, you will see a crudely painted sign pointing Louie Lake hikers to the right. My first instinct when I saw this was to take a 90-degree turn right and follow a trail down. That's wrong. Just slightly tilt to the right side of the road at the sign and continue to go up. Stay on the road.

Have fun!

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Book review: "From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler"

I first heard of the book, "From  the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" somewhere around third grade. But it wasn't until I was well into my 50s that I read it for the first time, aloud, to my two kids.

I'd always had the impression that this was a fun, and funny, book. I mean "mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" sounds silly right off the bat, right? So I was surprised how serious the book is. Author E.L. Konigsburg uses the story about two kids who run away to live in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to make some serious points about growing up.


The premise seems rather kooky. A sister and brother run away from home to live at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. They avoid the guards by hiding in the bathrooms and manage to get locked in each night. I kept hoping for some "Night at the Museum"-type craziness to happen after hours, but the only thing that came close was when they bathed in the fountain at the darkened museum restaurant..

Instead, Claudia and Jamie find themselves looking into a mystery: Is a sculpture called Angel really the work of Michelangelo? Their investigation pushes the story ahead, and takes them eventually into, yes, the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Konigsburg does well developing the interaction of Claudia and Jamie and you can see them maturing in the story. Mrs. Frankweiler helps them understand the meaning of their quest.

Still, I don't know if the story is really interesting enough for young readers.  There's no real danger and the surprises are fairly mild. It sticks to a fairly narrow story line following the daily lives of Claudia and Jamie. And the character of Claudia, who is bossy and nitpicks her brother's grammar, rubbed my daughter the wrong way. She called Claudia "annoying."

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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Tap cards expire and Metro won't refund your money

As I entered the Civic Center subway stop in Los Angeles a few nights ago, I pulled out my wallet as I always do. My wallet contains my Tap Card, the "ticket" that stores money for using Los Angeles Metro rail lines.

All I have to do -- and I've done it well over a thousand times -- is slap my wallet on the Tap Card circle as you enter the station's gates and the turnstiles unlock.

But on this day something different happened. I tapped my wallet and pushed the turnstiles -- and they did not move. Huh?  I tapped again, and again the turnstiles remained locked. An adjacent screen read, "Card is expired."

"Tap Cards expire?" That was what almost everybody said when I told them this story. Just like me, few of my train-riding friends knew that Tap Cards have an expiration date. How would you know? There's no expiration date on the card.

Indeed, Tap Cards do expire, although I still have no idea why. I spoke to two Metro representatives and neither could tell me.

The problem, in my case, was that I still had $35 stored on my card. What to do?
I called and asked Metro:

Could I go to a Metro ticket machine and transfer the money to a new Tap card? No.

Could I transfer the money online at the Metro's "TaptoGo" website? No.

Could they transfer the money to a new card and mail it to me? No.

Could they refund my money? No. (I don't see how that's legal.)

The one and only option was to buy a new Tap Card for $1 at a machine and then call Metro back and transfer the dollars from the old card to the new one. Keep in mind that every call to Metro requires a minimum of 10 minutes on hold.

Also, since I am part of an employer plan that pays half the cost of riding public transit, I will have to call the administrator of the plan and get my new card entered into their system.

One very inconvenient option. It's almost as if Metro wants people to give up on the money they have on their old cards -- and maybe they do. It turns out that millions of dollars goes unused on old Tap Cards, and that amounts to pure profit for Metro.

I guess that's why Tap Cards expire.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Book review: "Shark Tank -- Secrets to Success"

"Shark Tank -- Secrets to Success" is a fun book for fans of the ABC TV show "Shark Tank."

The book gives you the back story behind nine sets of entrepreneurs who appeared on the show to ask the panel of "sharks" to invest in their companie.

Author Michael Parrish DuDell gives us stories of successes and failures, and emphasizes the "lessons" to be learned from each entrepreneur's experience.  Frankly, I liked learning about the problems and mistakes most, because those are rarely shown even when "Shark Tank" does an update on a particular business.

You get some view behind the scenes of the show, but I would have liked more on that element.

DuDell offers a kind of "rah-rah," let's-root-for-this-entrepreneur perspective. At one point, referring to a problems faced by one entrepreneur, he writes, "instead of backing down she doubled down." The writing is adequate, but don't expect anything too deep.

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

The mysteries of Millikan High School sports

Let's say you're a parent considering signing up your daughter for the girls cross country team at Millikan High School in Long Beach, California.

You probably have many questions, such as:
  • Who is the coach? How can I reach him or her?
  • How do I sign up my daughter? Are there tryouts? If so, when?
  • When is the season, and how long does it last?
  • When are practices?
  • Is there training during the summer?
  • How much does it cost?
Logically, you head to the official web page of the Millikan girls cross country team where, as I write this, you will find exactly NONE of the answers to those questions, Here is the page:



That's right, absolutely no information at all. Not only that, it says "Cross County" not "Cross Country."

It's worth noting that Millikan High School is not some tiny, podunk school that is only now learning about a thing called the Internet. Millikan is a 4,000-student high school, with 185 staff members, in the Long Beach Unified School District, one of the largest districts in California.

In case you think I just happened to catch the Millikan girls cross country page at a bad moment, note that the page, misspelling and all, has remained unchanged for 10 58 consecutive days.

By comparison, anyone interested in cross country at nearby Wilson High School, also in Long Beach, will find a full-fledged website dedicated to the team with a complete roster of both boys and girls teams, bios and pictures of the coaches, and complete competition results from the past three seasons.

Is it just the girls cross country team page at Millikan that's weak? Hardly.

The boys cross country page, as I write this, has an announcement about tennis, and nothing else. The boys water polo team page has the same announcement, an outdated schedule and nothing else.

Nine other teams have only an outdated schedule on their pages and no other information: girls basketball, track, girls water polo, baseball, boys golf, softball, girls swimming, girls golf, and boys volleyball

The gymnastics page deserves special mention: It has an outdated schedule and -- get this -- an eight-sentence report about the results of a meet from March. Hey, that's not bad, right? Well, keep in mind that the meet was in March 2010 -- six years ago.

It's disturbing that so many organizations don't recognize that their web site is their face to the world. It's the first thing people see when they come to learn more about your group. It's a page people will return to again and again -- if it is useful and up-to-date.  Sadly, these Millikan pages are none of those.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Notable consumer data breaches:

Oct. 2013: A Vietnam-based identity theft ring allegedly stole data for 500,000 Americans, then posted the information for sale on websites, including superget.info and findget.me.

June 2013: Hackers targeted 15 financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and E-Trade, as part of a nearly two-year-long scheme that involved hacking into customer accounts to steal at least $15 million.
  
Oct. 2012: Barnes & Noble said data thieves hacked into payment devices and may have stolen customer credit and debit card information at 63 of its stores, including 20 in California.

Jan. 2012: Zappos.com was the victim of a cyber attack by a hacker who accessed customer information on the company's internal network and systems. The company said the potentially exposed information included names, email addresses, billing and shipping addresses, phone numbers and the last four digits of credit card numbers.
Oct. 2011: Groups of identity thieves took $13 million from consumers, banks and businesses through a worldwide credit card fraud operation that involved shopping sprees at local malls, officials said.
June 2011: Hackers broke into Citi's online account site and stole names, account numbers and email addresses of about 200,000 Citibank credit card customers in North America.
August 2008: The Bank of New York Mellon reported that a security breach involving the loss of backup data storage tapes affected about 8 million more individuals than originally thought.
  
August 2008: The FBI arrested a former Countrywide Financial Corp. employee and another man in an alleged scheme to steal and sell sensitive personal information, including Social Security numbers, of as many as 2 million mortgage applicants.

August 2008: Federal authorities said they had cracked the largest case of identity theft in U.S. history, charging 11 people in the theft of more than 40 million credit and debit card account numbers from computer systems at such major retailers as TJ Maxx and Barnes & Noble.
July 2008: Hackers broke into Citibank's network of ATMs inside 7-Eleven stores and stole customers' PIN codes, according to recent court filings that revealed a disturbing security hole in the most sensitive part of a banking record.

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Book review: "Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry"

"Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry" is a fine book for teenagers, or anyone who wants a good story and is willing to learn a bit about growing up black in the American South.

Mildred B. Taylor's story about an African-American family living in rural Mississippi in the 1930s takes a look at race relations on a personal, intimate
level. Told from the perspective of 9-year-old Cassie Logan, the story shows how Cassie, her brothers and her African-American friends begin to learn that life will be different, and difficult, for them simply because they are black.

The dawning is slow at first. Sure, the whites and blacks go to different schools, but that alone doesn't stir any anger for the children. In fact, the African-American children feel they might even have it a bit better, since they get to school start later in the year and finish earlier.

But the white kids get to ride to school in a bus, while the black children have to walk. And the white bus driver likes to spray mud-puddle water at the black children every chance he can. The unfairness begins to seep in to Cassie and her friends.

That is just the start. Piece by piece, Cassie and her siblings learn that life will never be equitable. They fear that white "night riders" might appear out of nowhere to attack their home.

Cassie's parents are caught in a dilemma, trying to teach their children about what is right and fair, while also preparing them to be treated badly.

The dialog for the most part rings true, but a few spots don't. Cassie's mother delivers something of an historical monologue on slavery and race relations that seems forced. Same thing for a section where Cassie's grandmother tells the family history to Cassie.

Still, it's a very readable book, with a nicely calibrated build-up to a dramatic finish.  You'll find yourself turning pages rapidly to see how it turns out.

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